The Future of Social Media: YouTube

Yuya is one of the world's most subscribed to users on YouTube.

The last decade has seen countless new players enter the social media landscape. In this evolving environment, YouTube seems to have been unaffected by the change and has kept its position as one of the most popular platforms without having to go through any major transformations. In 2015, the website celebrated its 10-year anniversary, but this year marks a decade since the three founders sold the company to Google and the service truly took off.

Today, YouTube has 1.3 billion unique users every month. This stratospheric number has been achieved by making the decision to keep the platform free and is perhaps best illustrated by the failed attempt to integrate YouTube with Google+ in 2011 – a severe misfire and a lesson in the power of unrestricted access.

Feline Maru is one of the world's most popular cats.

Maru is one of the world’s most popular cats on YouTube.

Who uses YouTube?

So, who are these 1.3 billion people? Firstly, not just bored teenagers. The original target group of people aged 12 to 17 has expanded and large quantities of users are today found in all age groups. Second, these 1.3 billion users don’t sit in front of their computers. As a matter of fact, more than 50% of the views on YouTube come from mobile devices. For content creators, this means that you are not making films for a 27-inch monitor, but rather for a 5-inch mobile screen. And third, the users are spread all across the world: 80% of the views are from outside the U.S. This means that uploaded videos instantly reach a global audience.

Even though YouTube offers the traditional features of a social media site – users create, share and exchange information through profiles, comments and groups – it has an exceptional focus on content. When looking at the future of YouTube, this cannot be forgotten. While Twitter and Facebook mainly focus on sharing and engagement of content, YouTube helps create it. Even comments from YouTube users sometimes take the form of videos, a sign of how much more effective and direct the medium of video can be compared to text.

PewDiePie is the world's most subscribed-to YouTube user.

With over 44 million subscribers, PewDiePie is the world’s most influential content producer.

The focus on content – and especially on video content – seems to be required to remain on top on the social media ladder. Predictions show that in just three years time, online video will make up 80% of all internet traffic. That is a lot of traffic. It also means that YouTube should prepare itself for a serious increase in competing services, something that is happening as we speak – notably from Facebook and Snapchat.

With this in mind: what does the future look like for YouTube? Which trends in the development of the platform can be identified?

More types of content

The perception that YouTube has gone through very few changes during the last decade probably comes from the fact that its interface hasn’t changed much. In reality, the service has constantly been evolving. In 2010, the first live streams were transmitted. The same year, a film rental service was introduced. More recent changes have seen the introduction of 360-degrees videos, the music streaming service Music Key and a gaming platform, connecting the rising phenomenon of Let’s Play videos.

A complement to the entertaining content is an increasing amount of educational videos produced by the highest-ranked universities. Expect this shift to an entertainment hub – where users both watch, listen, learn and play – to continue.

Premium services

Unlike other video-sharing websites, the content creators on YouTube are paid. This monetisation of videos has run into problems caused by ad blockers. Users block ads not because they are freeloaders, but because they are frustrated over bad user experiences. Therefore, the rise of ad blockers should be seen as a sign that different monetisation models must be explored. One of YouTube’s ways of battling this is the introduction of the paid subscription service YouTube Red.

Gone are the days when everything on YouTube was accessible. With these content access restrictions, television networks – in the process of moving from traditional broadcasting to video-on-demand – are intrigued by this new way of reaching users. Gone then are the days when YouTube’s competitors solely were Facebook, Vimeo and VK. The divide between video and online video will be harder to detect, meaning YouTube is now also competing with streaming media providers like Netflix and Hulu and large television networks like HBO.

Live and social

For YouTube and its users, there is no long-term gain in viral videos. To keep an audience it is more important to build a narrative with a series of videos, to get people to stay by making them want to hear the next part of the story. Once again, this is not done by tricks or deceptions, but by providing the best possible content – just like NBC’s Must See TV in the 90s.

A big issue expected to arise in the next couple of years is YouTube’s proper integration of live streaming. When will YouTube outbid the giant cable companies and start to stream live sport? This will happen, and when it does it is a pivotal step in taking down the television business as we know it. With the rise of more live content, the community aspect will increase in importance. People will watch the same content at the same time, and they will want to discuss it with other viewers, as it happens. YouTube is, and most certainly will be in the future, a social platform.

Who needs a television to watch the news?
In summary, the next decade of YouTube will see more big players enter the stage. On one hand this can be seen as a narrowing of the product – with less bottom up production, funny clips from individuals will have less impact – on the other hand, it will broaden the platform with the inclusion of games, virtual reality, live sport and a blurred distinction between online content and big television productions.

With both the content creators and the audience moving into this new environment, the advertisers must follow. To be successful, it is necessary to have the courage to step away from traditional ways of marketing through TV, radio and newspapers, and start to see the possibilities of entering the rapidly growing hub of digital entertainment that is YouTube.

Written by Andreas Å Andersson